Home > Free Speech > US Senate failed to overturn the First Amendment

US Senate failed to overturn the First Amendment

September 15, 2014

Last week I noted the US Senate was debating restricting political free speech. Just two days after that post the Constitutional Amendment died with a cloture vote of 54-42 (60 votes were needed). There really wasn’t much of a chance for this Amendment to actually be passed and forever alter the US Constitution, but it was good to see it die right away.

SJ Res 19 if passed would have allowed Congress to regulate political speech. I know, some people will say “money isn’t speech” and “corporations aren’t people”. There are problems with both statements. The simple fact of the matter is that any speech done beyond spoken work costs money. I really cringe when I discovered a large mass of political bloggers around the country supporting SJ Res 19. Political bloggers are a group that should specifically be opposed to restrictions on political speech. I’ll give myself as an example. This blog site, SoDakLibery, costs me money. Had this Amendment been passed by the US Senate, the US House, and ratified by the States it would be possible for Congress and the States to regulate what I say on this blog. Would that be likely? Maybe not at first. But “maybe not at first” doesn’t give very much comfort. Giving Congress the power to regulate political speech means trusting the current and all future Congresses to do the right thing. I personally don’t have that kind of trust in Congress, and find it odd that others would.

As to “corporations aren’t people”. That is a completely separate debate. This amendment was not aimed just at corporations. The Amendment would have applied to political speech for “natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law”. Basically any laws made on the grounds of this Amendment would have applied to anyone Congress wanted it to apply to.

Even if this had been aimed directly at Corporations it would have been bad. Here are a few short reasons why:

  • What kind of Corporations are being talking about? Does that mean just full Corps? Are Sub-S Corps also impacted? How about LLC’s? Corporations are created for a variety of tax and legal protective reasons. Corporations are created at the state level and there are various requirements of what an actual corporation is from state to state.
  • How about non-profit corporations? Would they be impacted? Some of the largest non-profits in the US also happen to spend a lot of money in politics. Here in SD think Avera and Sanford….
  • What about Unions. Unions are basically an artificial entity similar to corporations. Should they fall under the same restrictions?
  • Corporations currently have their income taxed as if they are a real person (well some do). Does that mean if Corporations are not found to have the same rights as people, that Corporations will no longer be taxed as people? If that is true I might get  behind a Constitutional Amendment saying Corporations are not people. Removing income tax from Corporations would do more to revive the US economy than any misguided stimulus spending.

I understand why the Senate Democrats brought this Amendment forward. Even though they knew it wouldn’t pass, they wanted to get their base excited. A lot of Democrats are rightfully worried about the vast amount of money in politics. People of both parties are getting tired of bought and paid for elected officials. The Senate Democrats hoped the debate surrounding this Amendment would be a launching pad to get more votes this fall. I think that is the saddest part of this whole Amendment. DC Democrats decided the best way to get their base excited was to propose a Constitutional Amendment that would restrict free speech. That says a lot about the current state of the Democrat party at the national level.

So if money in politics is the problem, what is the fix? There probably isn’t an easy fix. But I would start with making sure all aspects of political spending are completely transparent. There will always be a lot of money in politics. If DC Dems somehow got their wish and Corporations no longer had rights and Super-PACs went away, money would still remain. All that would change is how that money is spent. Instead of looking for ways to restrict free speech, I believe we should be looking for new an innovative ways to make the current system even more transparent. With true transparency it then leaves it up to the voters to decided whether politicians have been bought and paid for. Some tools of transparency already exists, yet they are typically avoided during this debate because neither side truly wants a lot of attention on where money comes from for their favored politicians.

Hopefully the US Senate won’t try to amend the Bill of Rights anymore this year. Even if the move was done in the name of politics to excite their base, it is a move that makes civil libertarians very nervous. Actually it should make anyone nervous to think about giving Congress the power to regulate political speech. It takes some mind-twisting to believe that allowing Congress to restrict political speech would somehow make Congress less attached to special interest moneys.

I think Remy has a good way to end this post. Here is his video made for the Center for Competitive Politics a few years ago:

PS. Here are a couple more Free Speech videos. The first one is a Metal classic. It is Danzig’s reply to Tipper Gore’s crusade against music. The second is explicit, and comes from Ice-T and his Heavy Metal group Bodycount.

Categories: Free Speech Tags:
  1. Merlyn Schutterle
    September 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Well, Ken, this is much to do about nothing because they are not going change the constitution ; not in our lifetimes. Besides that, we don’t really need the amendment because all we voters have to do is not vote for the big money boys. The problem is that most voters are pretty stupid and blind as to what is going on. Most people vote without really understanding what they are voting for. They just hear the loudest and most frequent voices they they are offered. Simple psychology.

    The problem with corporations spending all that money is that corporations are owned by stockholders and many of those stockholders may not agree with the corporations political agenda, but they have to help pay for things they are against. If corporations can buy the speech they want heard and stifle the rest, then why do we even have elections? We just vote for whatever propaganda the money boys tell us to. Free speech is not fair speech. Let’s let just the bullies speak and be heard.

    • September 15, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      I agree it should be unlikely the Constitution will be amended in our lifetime. Yet there are anti-CitizensUnited groups on the left pushing harder to amend the Constitution, and Levin followers on the right that want to do a balanced budget amendment via an Article V convention. If the two sides got together I could see both amendments becoming reality. That would be a sad day.

      I do agree with corps spending money without regards to what the stockholders think should be done. At the same time these stockholders should be holding their Board of Directors accountable for crazy CEO pay rates. But the average stockholder is just like how you describe the average voter. They really don’t care. Without caring there can’t actually be any change.

  2. Merlyn Schutterle
    September 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Rest easy, Ken, they will never get together as long as we have the hard core right and left, and middle of the road politicians won;t support it. We have a lot more important issues to worry about on real local issues, such as why I can’t get any answers from DCI. the Atty. Gen and Daugaard about the abuse of power. I can’t get anyone to help me look into it. That’s why we have what we have. As Jesse Ventura said, “You’re getting what you’re getting because you’re letting it happen.”

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: